Visible Evidence 2021

Augmented Realities: Paradoxes of Affective and Sensory Media

Heather Nolan
Jeffrey Geiger
Kris Fallon
Respondent: Kriss Ravetto-Biagioli
Wed, Dec 15
90 Min
Mousonturm (Studio 1), Online
Back to Program

Nature’s Nurture: The Deployment of Nature in Virtual Reality Meditation Apps

Two meditation apps available for virtual reality headsets are Cubicle Ninja’s Guided Meditation and House of Meditation from Cerevrum. The meditation experiences in these apps and others like them take place in some sort of digital natural landscape. They position natural settings as environments especially suited for engendering meditation, relaxation, and mental calm. Many media texts focused on nature, including nature documentaries, are intended either for the aesthetic pleasure of witnessing awe-inspiring beauty, or for engendering activism, either through viewing nature in all its glory or by witnessing its destruction. But these meditation apps do something different. They deploy nature in service of altering one’s internal state. What’s more, the landscape in them is quite obviously computer generated, with digital plants and animals performing versions of their real-world selves.

Calling on thinking from critical ecomedia and science and technology studies, this paper argues that these apps include nature in a neoliberal discourse of self-optimization. Where nature documentaries tend to erase the human from the landscape, these apps position the meditating user as both part of and master over the natural world. From beautiful exotic locales to impossible or dangerous places (Mars, or the ultra-relaxing Wildfire), ‘nature’ is curated for enhanced user experience to create an escape from the stress and drudgery of daily life, creating what one app calls a ‘vacation in your pocket.’ Besides contributing to discourses of nature as subservient to the whims of humans, these apps also posit individuals as solely responsible for their own well-being.

Heather Nolan

Heather Nolan holds a Master’s in Cinema and Media Studies from UCLA and is currently a PhD Candidate in Performance Studies with emphasis in Science and Technology Studies at UC Davis. Her current project looks at wearable monitoring devices in production of knowledge about the self. She has previously developed theater games workshops for foster youth related to the internet and social media. Heather received her BA from Dartmouth College. She has produced for theater, television, and film, and has taught film studies at community college.

Kodachrome Travels: Affective Connections of Color Realism

Engaging with unrestored color archives can afford an unexpected sensory and immersive experience, with one process in particular, Kodachrome, standing out for its longevity and vibrancy when stored in optimum conditions. Still, color applications in photography and film were for a long time thought unable to afford realism and depth that corresponded to the perception of colors in the everyday world. The consensus remains that color photography – due to expense, varied qualities of competing processes, and generic conventions – was primarily associated with fantasy, spectacle, and the otherworldly until at least the late-1940s. Kodachrome, in spite of claims to ‘color revolution’ with its release in 1935, is often characterized as exerting an influence outside the mainstream, due to its exclusive marketing to amateurs. Yet Kodachrome and its marketing campaign claimed a more central place in film history, promising to enhance – through what Kodak called ‘colors of life’- as never before an affective connection between filmgoers and the world around them.

Focusing on amateur travel films drawn from several archives, as well first-hand accounts, this paper looks at how Kodak’s ‘natural’ color and perceptions of realism potentially contributed to a nascent global cosmopolitanism. Yet there was a doubleness underlying this cosmopolitanism – Kodak encouraged audiences to affectively connect with ‘other’ peoples and locales, even while evoking a history and conventions linking color media to the marketing and consuming of empire, troublingly revisiting tropes related to what Teresia Teaiwa has labelled ‘militourism’.

Jeffrey Geiger

Jeffrey Geiger is professor of Film Studies at the University of Essex, UK. His books include: American Documentary Film: Projecting the Nation (2011); Facing the Pacific: Polynesia and the U.S. Imperial Imagination (2007); Film Analysis: A Norton Reader (with R. L. Rutsky, 2nd ed 2013); and Cinematicity in Media History (2013, with Karin Littau).

Ready to Hand: Object Recognition and Augmented Reality Apps

Object recognition algorithms represent the forefront of computer vision research, frequently enabling machines to decode the contents of an image faster and with a greater degree of accuracy than many humans. At its best, this technology connects humans with the world around them, identifying new species of plants and animals via apps like Seek or translating the dense iconography of a wine bottle in others like Taste. At its worst, it identifies and tracks individuals through public and private spaces, profiling qualities like race, gesture and affect. Like the humans whose sense of vision they seek to emulate and extend, these apps work on probability rather than certainty, achieving results based on their degree of exposure and training combined with the time required to pause and ‘think’ (deep image analysis).

This paper will analyze the various algorithms used for object recognition in these apps and consider the way in which they alter and extend sensory experience by supplementing the indexical images they rely on with iconic and symbolic information. Rather than capturing a record of some event or object in the world and offering the sense of pastness that Barthes famously associated with the photographic image, the camera here is used to connect the user with information about objects in their immediate vicinity. While manifestly imposing a layer between the user and the world, apps like Seek and Test aim for an experience of immediacy.

Kris Fallon

Kris Fallon, associate professor at UC Davis, is a film and digital media scholar whose research focuses on non-fiction visual culture across a range of platforms, from still photography to data visualization. His essays on digital technology and documentary have appeared in Film Quarterly, Screen, and several anthologies. His recent book is Where Truth Lies: Digital Culture and Documentary Media After 9/11.

Respondent: Kriss Ravetto-Biagioli

Kriss Ravetto-Biagioli is a professor of Film, Television and Digital Media at UCLA. She is the author of Unmaking Fascist Aesthetics (2001), Mythopoetic Cinema (2017), and Digital Uncanny (2019). She is currently working on a co-authored book with Martine Beugnet, The Trouble with Ghosts, and a book on public anonymity.